What Black Millenials Need to Know Now About Mental Health
Chandra White-Cummings, Managing Editor
Citing U.S. Census data, the 2016 Nielsen report, Young, Connected, and Black, says there are 11.6 million black Millenials—young people between the ages of 18 and 34. That’s a whole lot of turning up and many gallons of tea being sipped. By all appearances, they seem to have it going on. They are reported to be more optimistic than their non-Black counterparts and convinced of their ability to be change agents for a better society. The report also highlights their educational gains, with 70.9% of black high school graduates having enrolled in college in 2014 outpacing the white enrollment rate by five percent. Incidentally, black women led educational gains: in the 2012-2013 academic year, they earned 65% of bachelor’s, 70% of master’s, and 64% of doctorate degrees among black college graduates. And perhaps most notably, they ignited a movement of social justice and civil rights provoked by killings of unarmed young black men beginning with Trayvon Martin. But with so many positive realities shaping their existence, is everything truly well with black Millenials? Maybe not.
As they set the world on fire, today’s largest generation needs to be sure to tend to the inner life as well as outward appearances. There are disappointments, fears, and troubling circumstances with which to contend. The 2015 Black Youth Project (BYP) compilation of surveys and third party data highlights some of the challenges they face. BYP reports that over half of respondents said they or someone they know had been harassed by, or experienced violence at the hands of, police. A third of the black millennial woman told of discrimination at work, and 20% of men and women admitted to experiencing discrimination during their job search.
The BYP data also indicated that in 2013, the percentage of black 18-24 year olds living below the poverty line was almost double the percentage of white millennials in the same predicament. True to their optimistic outlook, many seem to recognize the need for building and maintaining strong inner reserves to confront obstacles and be the change catalysts they envision themselves to be. Black Millennial women are spearheading mental health outreaches like Healing Melanin, Melanin Mental Health, Redefine Enough, and others, demonstrating the kind of awareness required to hang tough for the long haul. Everyone, even this technologically savvy group, can learn more about mental health and wellness. Here are a few pieces of wisdom for their journey.
Mental and emotional wellness involves not only self-care and self-love but also care and treatment of others. An emphasis on loving oneself is perceived by many millennials to be the foundation of good mental health. Accepting one’s own flaws, vulnerabilities, and hangups is a necessary steps but it is not the only step. Extending the same tolerance and patience to others deepens wellness by redirecting thoughts about other people in a positive rather than negative direction. Science is revealing that chronic negative thoughts can produce toxic stress which ages and weakens the immune system, making the whole bodily system more susceptible to disease.
Remember that inner mental disturbance and imbalance will show itself in other areas of life, so learn to connect issues that might surface in relationships, at work, or in education settings to problems with mental or emotional health. Dr. Carleah East, LMHC, Psychotherapist, and owner of S.M.I.L.E. Counseling Services, explains:
Black Millennials need to recognize that mental health not only has internal impacts but also external effects. For instance, Blacks diagnosed with depression not only have an emotional struggle to face, but this struggle manifests itself in their work and home environment, resulting in absenteeism, poor concentration, and interrupted ability to formulate new ideas and share in open communication. …
The bumper crop of Millennials who identify as creatives should pay special attention in this regard because staying mentally healthy and emotionally sound is directly connected to keeping the creative juices flowing.
Educate yourself on your own experience and gain understanding of how it has affected your current situation. Many black Millennials had childhoods and adolescent periods characterized by intimate and community violence, food and housing insecurity, an incarcerated parent or significant other, and social isolation and loneliness. These are traumatic experiences. Don’t excuse or normalize them. Because something is common doesn’t make it acceptable or ‘normal’. Cousin Larry pressing a girl against a wall and groping her is not okay, even if all the girl cousins in the family received the same treatment. Study trauma and adverse childhood experiences (ACES) and their impact on developing brains and emotions. Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of the Center for Youth Wellness, is a leading expert on childhood trauma and ACES, and has delivered a TEDMED talk discussing the effects of trauma over a person’s lifetime. Use the vast and viral reach of social media to pass on resources like these to contacts and networks. Educate and re-educate one another on stress, trauma, anxiety, and depression.
Fiercely, courageously, and aggressively guard your mental health and emotional stability. This includes shedding the stigma against professional help to get or stay mentally healthy. The Boomer and Generation Xers have perpetuated the cultural bias against medical and healthcare professionals too long. Original intentions were good. Atrocities did happen. But now, a new day is dawning, and there is much more awareness of the need for cultural competence and for black and other minority mental health professionals to provide treatment in ways that will speak to Millennials. Psychiatrists are on YouTube. Psychologists are highly visible on social media. Black social workers and advocates are leading peer support groups and healing circles.
Family members and even friends might still not understand going to therapy. That’s alright. Throw on your red-bottom shoes, fluff up your fro and go anyway. Take a friend with you if it will help ease your transition. Ourselves Black has resources on this site that give information from professionals on how to know if it’s time to seek a therapist’s help, and what kinds of treatment they provide. Use resources as preparation on responding to and interacting with different medical establishments and providers. Share on social media about your experiences according to your comfort level. And once some traction has been gained in your quest for mental wellness, reach out and help someone else fight for theirs.